Remote work seems most suited for those with high levels of autonomy and emotional stability, according to new research
Lots of us think working from home is like being set free from prison. No stress, setting our own schedules and enjoying stress-free job satisfaction. A new Baylor University study says, “Hold on a second.”
In a study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, researchers took a look at how remote work affects employee well-being. It also provided context for how managers might develop remote-work opportunities that are beneficial to the employee while still profitable for the company.
“Any organization, regardless of the extent to which people work remotely, needs to consider well-being of their employees as they implement more flexible working practices,” the researchers wrote.
According to Sara Perry, PhD., assistant professor of management at Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, 403 working adults participated in surveys used in the two studies which comprised the research. Her team measured 3 factors: autonomy, or the degree of independence exhibited by workers, strain, or the levels of dissatisfaction, exhaustion and disengagement shown by the workers and their emotional stability.
Perry defined this last aspect as “how even keeled someone is or, on the opposite end, how malleable their emotions are. An example would be if something stressful happens at work, a person who is high on emotional stability would take it in stride, remain positive and figure out how to address it. A person low on emotional stability might get frustrated and discouraged, expending energy with those emotions instead of on the issue at hand.”
The research found that:
• Autonomy is critical to protecting remote employees’ well-being and helping them avoid strain.
• Employees reporting high levels of autonomy and emotional stability appear to be the most able to thrive in remote-work positions.
• Employees reporting high levels of job autonomy with lower levels of emotional stability appear to be more susceptible to strain. (1)
This study seems to contradict previous studies which say autonomy is needed by all workers. Perry and her team seemed to have shown that those with low emotional stability may not desire, or may do better without, significant autonomy in their work.
“This lower need for autonomy may explain why less emotionally stable employees don’t do as well when working remotely, even when they have autonomy,” researchers wrote.
In addition to their findings, the researchers offered several recommendations for managers who design or oversee remote-work arrangements.
The research team advised managers to consider their employees’ behavior when deciding who will work remotely.
“I would suggest managers look at employee behaviors, rather than for personality traits, per se,” Perry said. “For example, if someone does not handle stress well in the office, they are not likely to handle it well at home either. If someone gets overwhelmed easily, or reacts in big ways to requests or issues in the office, they are likely less well positioned to work remotely and handle that responsibility and stress.”
Based on this study, individuals with high emotional stability and high levels of autonomy are better suited for remote work, but such candidates might not always be available.
“If less emotionally stable individuals must work remotely, managers should take care to provide more resources, other than autonomy, including support to help foster strong relationships with coworkers and avoid strain,” they wrote.
Managers might also consider providing proper training and equipment for remote work, including proper separation of work and family spaces, clear procedural and performance expectations and regular contact (virtual or face-to-face) with coworkers and managers.